Hearings on a landmark industrial case comparing the pay and conditions of female early childhood teachers with male primary teachers and male engineers begin this week, with major unions arguing early childhood teachers are underpaid due to their gender.
The case was first brought before the Fair Work Commission in 2013 by the Independent Education Union of Australia (IEUA). It is a separate case from the case earlier this year that was rejected by Fair Work.
The case has attracted the support of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), the largest peak body representing workers in Australia.
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus highlighted the stark differences in pays between the early childhood and primary school systems. “Despite having the same degrees as any other teacher and having the same HELP debts, first year preschool teachers earn $16,000 less than primary teachers. After nine years the difference can be up to $30,000 per annum.”
The IEUA are asking the Fair Work Commission to address the pay gap under their equal remuneration principle, arguing that the gap is significant between the female-dominated sector and male-dominated industries such as engineering.
“Despite the significant public funding of the sector, some employers continue to pay their female early childhood teachers less than a fair wage in comparison with the pay earned by male professionals,” said IEUA Assistant Secretary Carol Matthews.
The IEUA have drawn attention to recruitment and retention challenges in early childhood settings due to the low pay. Data has shown that Australia has a significant shortfall in the numbers of qualified teachers required to meet future growth and demand.